Scientists have found that bees can do basic mathematics, in a discovery that broadens the understanding of the relationship between brain size and brain power.
Based on his discovery that bees can understand the concept of zero, Australian and French researchers They set out to test whether bees could perform arithmetic operations such as addition and subtraction.
Solving math problems requires a sophisticated level of cognition, involving complex mental management of numbers, long-term rules and short-term work memory. The revelation that even the miniature brain of a bee can grasp basic mathematical operations has implications for the future development of Artificial Intelligence, particularly to improve rapid learning.
Directed by researchers from the 'RMIT University' in Melbourne, Australia, the new study showed that bees can be taught to recognize colors as symbolic representations for addition and subtraction, and that they can use this information to solve arithmetic problems. RMIT associate professor Adrian Dyer explains that numerical operations such as addition and subtraction are complex because they require two levels of processing.
"You need to be able to keep the rules about addition and subtraction in your long-term memory, while mentally manipulating a set of specific numbers in your short-term memory," says Dyer. "In addition to this, our bees also used their short-term memories to solve arithmetic problems, since they learned to recognize more or less as abstract concepts instead of receiving visual aids, "he said in a statement.
The researcher stresses that his findings suggest that advanced numerical cognition can be found much more widely in nature among non-human animals than previously suspected. "If mathematics does not require a massive brain, there could also be new ways to incorporate the interactions of long-term rules and working memory in the designs to improve the rapid learning of new problems by the AI," he says.
There is considerable debate about whether animals know or can learn complex number skills. Many species can understand the difference between quantities and use this for their feeding, making decisions and solving problems; but numerical cognition, such as the exact number and arithmetic operations, requires a more sophisticated level of processing.
Primates, birds and spiders can also add and subtract
Previous studies have shown that some primates, birds, babies and even spiders can add and / or subtract. The new research, published in 'Science Advances', adds bees to that list. The experiment, conducted by the doctoral researcher Scarlett Howard, in the digital detection laboratory Bio Inspired (BIDS-Lab) at RMIT, included the training of individual bees to move through a Y-shaped labyrinth.
The bees received a reward of sugar water when they made a correct choice in the labyrinth, and obtained a solution of bitter-tasting quinine if the choice was incorrect. The bees will return to a place if the location provides a good source of food, so the bees repeatedly returned to the experimental setting to pick up the nutrition and continue learning.
When a bee flew through the entrance of the labyrinth, it would see a set of elements, between 1 and 5 shapes. The forms were blue, which meant that the bee had to add, or yellow, which meant that the bee had to subtract. After seeing the initial number, the bee would fly through a hole in a decision chamber where it could choose to fly to the left or right side of the labyrinth.
One side had an incorrect solution to the problem and the other had the correct solution of more or less one. The correct answer was changed randomly throughout the experiment to prevent bees from learning to visit only one side of the maze. At the beginning of the experiment, the bees made random choices until they could find a way to solve the problem. Finally, in more than 100 learning tests that took from 4 to 7 hours, the bees learned that blue meant +1, while yellow meant -1. The bees could then apply the rules to the new numbers.
Scarlett Howard points out that the ability to do basic mathematics has been vital in the flourishing of human societies historically, with evidence that the Egyptians and the Babylonians used arithmetic around 2000 BC. "At present, we learn from children that one more symbol means that you need to add more, while a minus symbol means that you subtract," he says.
"Our findings show that the complex understanding of mathematical symbols as a language is something that many brains can probably achieve, and it helps to explain how many human cultures developed numerical skills independently, "he concludes.